MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte is now "neutral" on calls to extend the Bangsamoro government's transition period, his spokesman said Monday.
Duterte last week met interim officials of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), whose term was set by law to end in 2022, when the public would elect new leaders.
"Ang Presidente po (The President) decided to become neutral, and will allow Congress to fully discuss the matter and to decide accordingly, respecting the plenary powers and wisdom of Congress," said Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque.
"Ang sabi kasi ni Presidente, talagang may punto ang parehong panig," he said in a press briefing.
(The President said both sides had a point.)
Roque last year said Duterte would help the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) to seek Congress approval for the extension of their term as the COVID-19 pandemic affected their efforts to restructure the new political entity and its government.
Two Cabinet officials have since expressed opposing views on this. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the extension would not need to go through a plebiscite, while Duterte's chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo believed the vote was necessary, said Roque.
"Within the Cabinet itself, two different opinions were expressed, and I think that was also one reason why the President said magnu-neutral siya (he would be neutral)," he said.
The law creating the BARMM was ratified through a plebiscite in 2019.
WHAT THE TWO SIDES SAID
Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan, who opposes the extension, said he had nothing against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that leads the BTA.
"Ang gusto lang natin ngayon ay magkaroon ng mandato ang ating mga opisyal... It will be very awkward for the BARMM officials to be governing without any mandate," Tan said in the Palace briefing.
(All we want is for our officials to have a mandate.)
"Whether may election o walang election, susuportahan namin... But I will prefer kako that we strengthen the position of the BARMM officials," he said.
(Whether or not there is an election, we will support the BTA. But I said I would prefer that we strengthen the position of the BARMM officials.)
BTA Interim Chief Minister Ahod "Al-haj Murad" Ebrahim, chair of the MILF, said the 3-year transition period is "very short to restructure the Bangsamoro government."
The BTA, he added, had no fund in 2019. The year after, its funds and attention went to containing the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Marami tayong hindi nagawa na task natin," he said in the same briefing.
Tan said he would challenge before the Supreme Court any extension of the Bangsamoro transition.
Duterte, the first President from Mindanao, had promised the creation of the Bangsamoro region in the lead-up to the 2016 elections. Halfway through his 6-year term, Duterte delivered on this vow that is hoped to end the decades of violence in the south.
The law that created the Bangsamoro, signed in July 2018, was the product of a 2014 peace deal between the MILF and the previous administration of the late Benigno Aquino III.
A caravan was held last week in the Bangsamoro region, asking Duterte to certify Senate Bill 2214, the measure seeking to extend the term of the BTA until 2025, as urgent.